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The Kardashians meet Downton Abbey

July 18th, 2013
10:20 AM ET

The Kardashians meet Downton Abbey

The Kardashians of Britain?

In attention, maybe, says Sarah Lyall, outgoing London correspondent for the New York Times.

But, she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “they're not going to go on and talk about what the labor was like and how hard it is to lose the baby weight and does Kanye want to see me breastfeeding.”

For 17 years, Lyall has been decoding Britain for Americans. She even wrote a book about it: “The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British,” published in 2008.

Obsession with the Royal Family, said Lyall, extends even the sophisticated readers of her New York Times.

“They're obsessed with it,” she said. “It's unbelievable. It's Downton Abbey in the Royal Family.”

Indeed the British, Lyall explained, still struggle with many of the same issues portrayed in Downton Abbey, the hit British TV show.

In that show, a family desperately searches for a distant cousin to become a male heir, ignoring three daughters. The idea of “primogeniture,” that a male in most households gets the inheritance, still holds true.

“It's ridiculous,” Lyall said. “The idea was originally to keep these estates together. … And at that time, women, were, you know, chattel. And it's just sort of passed on down and no one's ever done anything about it.”

That tradition has recently changed for the Royal Family. Lyall explained that parliament passed legislation that means that the child born to William and Kate with be heir to the throne, no matter the sex.

Britain, however, remains a deeply traditional society – sometimes absurdly so, to an American observer.

“A few years ago, the House of Lords actually had to debate on whether or not to outlaw all the hereditary peers,” Lyall said. “It was an inherited legislature; and so these people were debating and it was actually sort of sweet.”

“They were saying, well, you know, my family in the 15th century started to sit in this house … I have a lot of experience running my estate,” Lyall went on. “It was amazing to hear it. It was like from another century.”

Click above to watch Amanpour’s full conversation with Lyall, and find out what British stereotypes Lyall found to be true, and which she didn’t.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Bitrus Gyang

    Congratulation on your 95th birthday and i wish you a very queck recovery President Mandela.

    July 19, 2013 at 2:44 am | Reply
  2. Not a stickler, but......

    I admire Christiane Amanpour and find the quality of her reporting generally better than the average on CNN and other news media. So I was quite surprised when, referring to Elizabeth I, she said, "...her descendant and namesake, Queen Elizabeth II..." Elizabeth I had no children (that we know of), and so has no descendants. Elizabeth II and Elizabeth I are of course relatives, being first cousins 14 times removed. The closest common ancestors they share are Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

    July 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Reply
  3. Tony - Lagos

    Used to be a huge fan of Amanpour, until late. I have consistently watched her in recent times mis-represent issues that I have been knowledge of; particualry Nigerian & African issues. Her interviews lack depth and fairness.
    One wonders how many more issues I do not have insight of that are constantly mis-represented on her show.
    Sad that the western press are seen by most as the primary source of their news, with what I have heard on coverage of African events; I sure know better.

    July 23, 2013 at 11:58 am | Reply
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